I have the somewhat unique position of being part of a small-business enterprise and a consumer at the same time. Since Electronics Purchasing Strategies writes for professional procurement (among other audiences) I try to take a personal buying experience and then complicate it by a hundred-fold to put myself in the readers' shoes. My supply chain was recently disrupted by events beyond my control. My vendor tried to make things right. Ultimately, they succeeded.
Briefly: I recently engaged a small business (comprised of three people) to reface my kitchen cabinets. I signed a contract back in February. I put down a deposit when the materials were ordered; the job was supposed to start in April. Disruption 1 came around the May time-frame the form of knee replacement surgery that put one principal flat on their back. Disruption 2 came in August the form of family illness. Disruption 3 came in the form of a production error. Disruption 4 came in the form of a materials shortage. Disruption 5 was another production error, this time in September. And so on. From start to finish, I had people in and out of my kitchen for four-plus weeks.
I am not a gourmet cook or a foodie. But I am a home office worker. Living with my boxed and canned foods; cookware; flatware; and cleaning essentials in the dining room was less disruptive than coordinating the arrival and departure of my vendors with business-related conference calls, child transport, rudimentary dinners and a hundred other little things. Then there was the banging and sawing. There are a million advantages to home offices, but the few disadvantages tend to be the biggies.
During this ordeal, I focused on a couple of things. One was managing the family supply chain: I minimized the perishable items, maximized the nonperishables; and relied on the outdoor grill. I second- and third-sourced pizza suppliers. The other issue was harder: I really wasn’t happy about the delays and all the problems that came to light just as the installation started. For example, the cabinet doors were built in the spring, but problems with the doors became evident at the end of the summer. Then there was the materials shortage and mismatched parts. I tried to imagine an electronics factory experiencing the same things. I concluded it is a miracle that anything ever gets built and doesn’t explode into a ball of flame.
My vendors, though, ultimately did the right thing. Some doors had to be rebuilt. Some installed materials had to be ripped out. They absorbed the costs of these materials, and upgraded the wood finish from a so-so varnish to some kind of uber-material that repels everything except a bullet. They saw something they didn’t like and reconstructed that part of the kitchen. They came on weekends if necessary. They didn’t compromise on the quality of their work. Yes, the job took too long; yes, I was inconvenienced; yes, the banging, sawdust and interruptions drove me crazy. But I’ve also had health problems that have kept me from work; I have family members that get sick; I frequently forget or run out of a vital ingredient to a receipe or DIY project; and worse, I’ve missed deadlines. Stuff happens.
The electronics supply chain has faced disruptions such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and factory fires. Humans, in addition to materials and products, were affected by these events. In the grand scheme of things my problems are small. But the common thread is this: what do you do for a customer when something happens that you have no control over?
My recommendation: Pick something you do have control over and go the extra mile. If a shipment is missed, pay for the cost of the next shipment. If you run out of part A, give your customer the option of part B. If part B costs more, pick up the difference. There are a hundred small ways to compensate your customer for their inconvenience—even if you weren’t the cause of the problem.
The other recommendation I have: if you mess up, admit it. Then make it right. For all of the problems with my vendors, I knew why they didn’t show up and didn’t have to second-guess. And they made sure the work they left behind was top-notch. They didn’t compromise on the quality, and I’ll remember that long after my annoyance fades. They can’t give me back time lost, but they did what they could to make things right.
I hope I try to apply the same lessons in the management of my small business. Of course, that pre-supposes that I actually make a mistake or miss a deadline. And I can assure you that never happens.